Eat & Move with Derval O’Rourke: Simple swaps to reduce our carbon footprints

Pictures: Leah Barbour

This week I’m sharing some simple swaps to help us all become more environmentally aware and reduce our carbon footprints. I’m focussing on plant-based goodness for my recipe with a mixed bean curry and red lentil dahl.

The EAT-Lancet report on food, the planet and health was recently published and has raised a lot of discussion in the media.

There has been a lot of discussion around the contents of the report and people are passionate about the area of consumption. In my house we make an effort to be environmentally conscious and this report gives a good opportunity to discuss some of the things we do. The project brought together scientists to discuss how we can continue to feed the world in a healthy and sustainable way when population levels are expected to reach 10 billion by 2050. They focused mainly on food- based solutions and developed what they termed the ‘planetary diet’.

The report is long and quite detailed but there are ways we can all make a difference without needing to go to extremes or have a major life overhaul. Here are my top five:

1) Focus on food

The EAT-Lancet guidelines advise eating a wide variety of foods and basing our diets around minimally processed wholegrain, legumes, fruits and vegetables with moderate amounts of meat, fish and dairy and limited amounts of foods high in sugar, salt and fat.

The report stressed that these changes would confer improved health and environmental benefits. They did not specifically recommend going vegetarian or vegan.

I understand that implementing these changes can be challenging on a practical level. Personally, I focus on having one or two meat-free dinners a week and ensure any meat or fish I do purchase is good quality.

Another great tip is to add less meat to recipes like curries or stews and to bulk out the meal with tinned chickpeas, kidney beans and lentils. This not only reduces the cost of the meal but also increases its fibre content which has a positive effect on long-term health and wellbeing.

2) Reduce single use plastic

Watching David Attenborough’s Blue Planet really opened my eyes to the impact plastic is having on our oceans and the creatures that live in it. It is estimated by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the sea. It’s easy to forget that plastic is not biodegradable and that the plastic we ‘throw away’ still ends up somewhere be it in our oceans, in our dumps or littering our streets. Plastic is everywhere and it is having huge impacts on our planet. Simple swaps that can make a huge difference include:

  • Declining plastic straws and cutlery when out and about and using reusable ones at home. You can pick these up on Irish website
  • Using a reusable water bottle and avoiding buying plastic bottles where possible. As a bonus, this can also be a great way to encourage yourself to drink more water throughout the day. I encourage people to keep one with them at all times and to aim to refill it two or three times a day.
  • Use a reuseable cup instead of a disposable coffee cup. I try to use mine as much as I possibly can and most coffee shops will offer a discount towards your hot beverage.
  • Buy fruits and vegetables loose, as opposed to in plastic bags if you can. Bananas are a classic example; buy them loose and you immediately cut down on the plastic that you take home with you. Also ask wherever you buy your loose fruit and vegetables if they can reduce their plastics use.

3) Reduce food and general waste

Loving your leftovers is an easy way to cut down on food waste and save money. When you cook an evening meal, make double and pop half in a reusable lunchbox for the next day. Another thing I advocate is that when cooking meat try to waste as little as possible. For example, if I roast chicken I will use the bulk of it for our Sunday dinner then make a curry with the leftover meat for work lunches and a stock with the carcass which I will use for a soup or sauce base. Despite what people seem to believe, frozen fruits and vegetables are equally as nutritious as fresh and they can be a great way to reduce food waste as they don’t go off and you can use as much or as little as you need. They also tend to be more cost effective in the long run.

4) Shop local and in season

I try to source my food locally where possible. Of course there are times this doesn’t happen but I am conscious of it. I buy my meat from the butcher, my fish from the fishmonger and try to visit the farmers’ market whenever possible. Aiming to increase the amount of seasonal and locally produced foods you eat can reduce the air miles the food has had to travel to get to you and can drastically reduce its carbon footprint.

5) Other ideas include

There is an almost endless list of swaps you can make to reduce environmental impact and carbon footprint. I have been researching the topic online and some interesting ideas that I came across included:

  • Reducing your clothing consumption by limiting the amount of new clothes you buy and donating unwanted clothes to a charity shop or to friends and family. I always try and pass Dafne’s clothes onto friends once she’s grown out of them, most are in immaculate condition and it would feel like a waste to throw them away. Why not try shopping in a second-hand or vintage shop? I have friends who do this all the time and who have an eye for hidden gems.
  • Be more water-aware and to try using a basin of water when doing the washing instead of washing them under running water. Try and have short showers more often than baths as they typically consume less water and always turn off the tap while you’re brushing your teeth can all add up over the week.
  • Get your steps in by walking short distances instead of taking the car and taking public transport when possible. If you are taking the car then try to group errands or pickups together to make the most of the journey.

Ultimately this is a learning process so don’t beat yourself up if you are not doing all the things listed below. It’s not about being perfect or zero-waste it’s about realising even one small change in your day could make a big difference long term to the health of the planet. I have simply shared my top ‘sustainable swaps’ so hopefully they can inspire you to make similar ones too.


Grow HQ in Waterford is the home of the GIY movement. The work they do in helping people to grow some of their own food at home, at work, at school and in the community is amazing.

Be sure to check them out.

Red Lentil Dahl

Everyone can make a super easy and tasty lentil dahl dinner. It’s a really healthy supper and a great way to have a lovely vegetarian dinner in your cooking repertoire.

This recipe will be beautiful the following day as the flavours come out even more so try to make enough for a few meals!

It will freeze well, it’s worth cooking enough to stock this in your freezer. This dinner will be done in one big pot, always good news when it comes to tidy up.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 25-30 minutes

Serves: 2

Nutritional information:

Protein – 13.5g

Fat – 8.5g

Carbohydrate – 35.3g

Calories – 276

2 tbsp coconut oil

½ onion, finely diced

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 thumb size piece of ginger, grated

1 medium red chilli, seeds removed and finely chopped

3 tsp cumin

1 tbsp medium curry powder

200g red lentils washed and drained

Juice of 2 limes

1 tin chopped tomatoes

500ml boiling water

Bunch of fresh coriander, roughly chopped

In a large pot, melt the coconut oil. Add the onions and sweat off gently on a low heat for about five minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, chilli, cumin and curry powder and cook for roughly another two minutes.

Stir in the lentils, lime juice and chopped tomatoes. Add the water and bring to a gentle simmer. Continue to simmer for another 15- 20 minutes, adding more water if necessary.

Serve topped with heaps of fresh coriander and a good dollop of natural yoghurt.

Mixed Bean Curry

This curry is a basic recipe I know I can rely on. I often make a big batch of the curry sauce and freeze it in portions. Then all I need to do is heat through the sauce, stir in a few tins of mixed beans (or some leftover cooked chicken or turkey) — and dinner is sorted.

Serves: 4

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 35 minutes

Nutritional information (per serving):

Protein – 10.3g

Fat – 13.5g

Carbohydrate – 70.8g

Calories – 385.8

3 tbsp coconut oil

2 onions, roughly chopped

4–5 garlic cloves, crushed

a thumb-sized piece of ginger, grated

2 tbsp medium curry powder

1 tsp garam masala

1 tsp ground coriander

½ tsp chilli flakes

10 dried apricots, halved

3 apples, peeled and roughly chopped

3 peppers, deseeded and roughly chopped

2 tbsp tomato purée

700ml chicken stock (or vegetable if you prefer)

salt and pepper

2 tins mixed beans, drained and rinsed

brown or basmati rice, to serve

Heat the coconut oil in a large pot over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook for about 10 minutes, until softened. Add the garlic, ginger and spices and fry for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir in the apricots, apples, peppers, tomato purée and chicken stock and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for at least 40 minutes (up to 60 minutes, if you have time).

If you want to pre-cook this curry, now is the time to take it off the heat. Let it cool fully, divide it into portions in airtight containers and store it in the freezer.

Use a hand blender to purée the curry sauce to the desired consistency, then check the seasoning.

Stir in the mixed beans. When the curry is piping hot, ladle it into warmed serving bowls. Serve with brown or basmati rice.

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